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WASHINGTON, November 9, 2020 — President-elect Joe Biden pledged in his campaign to reverse some of the most restrictive immigration actions undertaken during Donald Trump’s four years in office, including family separation and a travel ban on nationals from majority-Muslim countries. He and running mate Kamala Harris also vowed to temporarily halt deportations, reinstate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, increase refugee admissions and halt construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The incoming administration is likely to face a number of challenges achieving these goals and advancing ambitious proposals of its own, not least because Republicans may continue to control the Senate if they win two runoff elections in Georgia in January. There are other challenges to undoing and rebuilding the immigration system, including the sheer number and scope of the more than 400 executive actions advanced by the Trump administration, some interlocking and thus more difficult to undo.

A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) policy brief, At the Starting Gate: The Incoming Biden Administration’s Immigration Plans, outlines some of the incoming administration’s top immigration priorities and examines challenges and opportunities ahead given the current reality.

For example, while Biden has said he intends to raise refugee resettlement from the current record low of 15,000 this year to 125,000, deep funding cuts to the operational capacity of the nonprofit network that resettles refugees will have to be reversed to enable a rapid scaling of significant resettlement. And while actions such as a return to Obama-era immigration enforcement priorities can be done via agency guidance, reversing other Trump actions, such as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) public-charge regulation, will be more complex and take more time.

Drawing on existing and forthcoming policy ideas from MPI’s Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy initiative, the brief co-authored by Senior Fellow and former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner sketches a number of proposals that could begin to shape a U.S. immigration system that advances the national interest going forward.  

The near-total shutdown of asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border does not represent a long-term strategy. Effective long-term solutions to deal with mixed flows of economic and humanitarian migrants entail processes to provide fair, efficient processing of asylum cases, including by having the USCIS Asylum Division oversee the merits of border asylum cases to completion—an MPI recommendation the Biden campaign has embraced.

The brief also recommends the creation of multiagency reception centers near the border for one-stop screening of arrivals and speedy turnover to the relevant agencies.

Although public support for immigration has risen to record levels, finding a pathway to legalization for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants, with Biden pledging to issue a road map on his first day, will surely prove difficult to achieve in a divided Congress. The Biden team could first look to discrete populations, including recipients of DACA or Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and the spouses of U.S. citizens or green-card holders, the brief suggests.

While the Biden administration has opportunities to undo or redo actions created via executive order and agency guidance, in particular, the authors suggest that “given the plethora of changes the Trump administration has pushed to nearly every corner of the U.S. immigration system and what undoubtedly will be a less-intense focus on immigration during the Biden years amid competing priorities and interests, it seems likely that the Trump stamp will remain on significant aspects of immigration for years to come.”

Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/starting-gate-biden-administration-immigration-plans.

It is the latest in the multi-year Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy initiative, launched in 2019. The initiative is generating a big-picture, evidence-driven vision for the role immigration can and should play in America’s future. Reports focusing on the immigration detention system, the attorney general’s referral and review powers, regional migration flows and management, the immigration courts and a wide range of other topics will be published in the coming weeks and months.

See all of the work published to date by the Rethinking Immigration Initiative here: www.migrationpolicy.org/rethinking. And to keep up with the latest developments in the Rethinking initiative, sign up for updates here.

The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.